A birth defect is an abnormality of structure, function or metabolism (body chemistry) present at birth that results in physical or mental disabilities or, sometimes, even death.
In the United States, about 3% or one out of every 33 babies is born with a birth defect. Most birth defects are thought to be caused by a complex mix of genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors, although for many birth defects, exactly how these factors work together is unclear.
The causes of between 70 and 80 percent of birth defects are unknown. Sometimes they just happen with no clear cause. Sometimes the cause of a birth defect is determined after the baby is born.
It is not clear how many birth defects are related to environmental exposures, such as chemicals, ionizing radiation, drugs, and infections. Researchers are looking at a wide variety of environmental exposures and risk factors as possible causes.
Birth defects data reported on this website are obtained from the Massachusetts Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention within the Massachusetts Department of Public Health/Bureau of Family Health and Nutrition. This center collects birth defects data from birthing hospitals and other medical facilities throughout Massachusetts.
Getting Information About Birth Defects in Your Community
The link on the right toolbar provides access to reports on birth defects in Massachusetts and its 14 counties. Data are currently available for the years 2002-2006. To protect privacy, no information is shown that could identify an individual child or their family.
Twelve birth defects are included on the EPHT network. They include: anencephaly, spina bifida (without anencephaly), hypoplastic left heart syndrome, tetralogy of Fallot, transposition of the great arteries (vessels), cleft lip with or without cleft palate, cleft palate without cleft lip, hypospadias, gastroschisis, upper limb deficiencies, lower limb deficiencies, and trisomy 21. Definitions of these birth defects can be found in the glossary as well as at birth defect definitions.
When reviewing and interpreting birth defects data, it is important to take into consideration the following:
The number and prevalence of children with birth defects can be viewed from the choices on the right toolbar. For each year of data available, statewide birth defects prevalence are provided. County-level prevalence estimates and average annual counts are available for the 5-year period of 2002 through 2006.